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Camper tells how she played dead as killer grizzly bear chewed her arm

When Deb Freele woke up in her tent, a grizzly bear was chewing on her arm. She screamed as she heard the bones break.

Recovering in hospital this week, she explained how she had survived: "I screamed, he bit harder. I screamed harder, he continued to bite. I told myself, 'play dead'. I went totally limp. As soon as I went limp, I could feel his jaws get loose and then he let me go."

Mrs Freele (58), was one of two survivors of a deadly bear attack in the middle of the night at a busy campsite just outside Yellowstone National Park in Montana. Kevin Kammer (48) from Michigan, was killed as he slept.

A teenage boy was also attacked but escaped with puncture wounds after punching the bear, which tore through several tents in the sprawling Soda Butte camping grounds.



Towering

Rangers later captured and put put down a female grizzly with cubs, and officials are certain that the bear, which is estimated to weigh up to 400lb (180kg), was responsible for the attacks. About 600 grizzly bears and hundreds of less-aggressive black bears live in the Yellowstone area.

Mrs Freele (58), from London, Ontario, was visiting the Montana backcountry with her husband. She had been fast asleep and woke to find the bear towering above her.

She suffered severe lacerations and crushed bones from bites on her arms. Mrs Freele's husband, asleep in another tent, did not wake up until the 40-second attack was over. Throughout, the bear did not make a sound.

Don Wilhelm, a wildlife biologist from Texas, said he heard a scream and thought that it was teenagers larking about or a domestic dispute. Mr Wilhelm's wife, Paige, heard it clearly. "First she said, 'No!' Then we heard her say, 'It's a bear! I've been attacked by a bear'," Mrs Wilhelm, said.

The Wilhelms ran with their sons for their car and drove around the site, honking their horns and yelling to alert other campers.

Bear attacks are rare, and fatal attacks are rarer still. The last fatal bear attack in Montana was in 2001 and this week's attacks were the most serious in Yellowstone since the 1980s.

hnews@herald.ie


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